Help with cleft lip & palate and communication

Mother using Makaton to communicate with a child who has cleft lipMakaton can help people with cleft lip and palate to communicate using a combination of signs, symbols, and speech. Makaton helps all children to develop language skills and allows those with cleft lip and palate to communicate straight away using signs and symbols, with many naturally dropping them at their own pace, as they develop speech.

How does cleft lip and palate affect speech?

A cleft lip and/or palate can impact a child’s speech as they may have difficulties producing certain sounds, having the correct resonance or phonation as well as difficulties with eating and drinking. Around half of all children with a cleft palate will need some form of speech and language therapy (SLT).

Often, it won't be clear how a child will be affected until they start to speak. Children with a cleft that affects their soft palate (the part towards the back of the throat) may have problems with speech that include sounding nasal.

A child with cleft lip or palate may:

  • have delayed speech development
  • produce speech errors
  • have hearing loss

To find out more visit Cleft Lip & Palate Association

When will a child with a cleft lip or palate start speaking?

Around half of all children with a cleft palate will need speech and language therapy at some point. Your child will have an assessment at around 18-24 months old, and another one at 3 years. In both cases, treatment and/or therapy will be recommended if they think it is necessary. Who are they?

The aim of speech and language therapy is for children to have good quality, understandable speech by age 5-6 so that they can enter school able to participate fully in class and communicate with their peers. A speech and language therapist may suggest alternative communication strategies, such as Makaton.

To find a speech and language therapist visit RCSLT - Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists

How does Makaton help people who have cleft lip or palate with their communication?

Some children with cleft lip/palate may find that Makaton signs and symbols helps them to speak. Signs are used with speech to provide extra visual support about what someone is saying. Using signs helps children who have no speech, or whose speech is not clear. Symbols can be used by people who have limited speech, or those who either cannot or prefer not to sign. Makaton can provide children with cleft palate with the mean of communication before intelligible speech develops.

Some children with cleft lip/palate may prefer to use PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) as their chosen form of communication. Makaton symbols can be used with PECS.

Many children will develop understanding ahead of their speech, which will leave them feeling frustrated as they may know what they want but are unable to express it. Makaton targets this frustration, allowing them to communicate meaningfully and effectively which promotes inclusion and independence.

Makaton can help people with cleft lip and palate who have difficulty with:

  • conveying their feelings, wants and needs
  • being understood
  • attention and listening
  • visual sequencing memory

With Makaton, children with cleft lip or palate can connect with other people and the world around them, which opens a range of possibilities. Learn more about Makaton

How can Makaton be used in everyday life?

Makaton is extremely flexible, as it can be adapted to suit an individual’s needs and used at a level that works for them.

It can be used for a range of purposes. Some include:

  • sharing thoughts, choices and emotions
  • labelling objects, pictures, photos and places
  • participating in games and songs
  • listening to, reading and telling stories
  • creating recipes, menus and shopping lists
  • writing letters and messages
  • helping people find their way around their environment

Makaton signing is being increasingly used in mainstream and SEN specialist schools to allow all pupils to communicate effectively. Find out how Makaton works

How do I start out with Makaton?

Are you ready to take the first step and start learning Makaton? Getting started with Makaton is fun and easy. The best way to start learning Makaton is to attend Level 1 training . It means that you learn with other people, share your experiences, and practise with others. It also gives you the opportunity to meet and build a relationship with a Makaton Tutor, who can help and support you in the future. Use our quick and easy search tool to find a workshop near you  (both online and face-to-face training is available).

Makaton Membership complements and enhances training with 24/7 digital access to symbols, signs and video tutorials plus the support of our vibrant online forum, MakaChat. Membership is a valuable support tool for family and friends of Makaton Users and professionals who use Makaton in the workplace.

If you prefer to learn at your own pace, in your own time and in your own home, membership  is a great way to begin your Makaton journey. With a choice of Individual and Group Memberships, simply select the Membership that's right for you.

Visit our Membership  area to start your free 7-day trial.